Sunday, June 13, 2010

Peter Anton Orlovsky (July 8, 1933 – May 30, 2010)

Another milepost on the heavenly Beat road -- Peter joins Allen in the crazy party that must already be in full swing. One only hopes that Jack is keeping Neal away from punching "A-1" on the hydrogen jukebox. Here is an excerpt from The New Yorker (1999) about the auction of one of Ginsberg and Orlovsky's most iconic possessions at Sotheby's; ironically, Uncle Sam was still on the case after Ginsberg's death -- writer Steve Silberman reports that the auction "was in the spirit of his Buddhist practice, but the immediate purpose of the sale was to help the Allen Ginsberg trust recover from a mammoth tax hit."

"The auction was also intended to benefit Ginsberg's heirs, including Peter Orlovsky, his companion for four decades. Just before the auction began, Orlovsky appeared at Sotheby's front desk and identified himself to the two polite ladies who were checking in bidders as 'Mrs. Allen Ginsberg.' In a sale of items with nostalgic associations -- a copy of The Beatles' Live at the BBC inscribed by Paul McCartney 'To Allen, thanks for the lessons!' -- there was one item that, as Ginsberg's longtime secretary Bob Rosenthal explains, made potential buyers 'go ahhhh!': Lot No. 86, the poet's harmonium.

Bought by Orlovsky in Benares in 1962 for about fifty dollars, the lap-sized lacquered wooden organ with a hand-pumped bellows was as iconically inseparable from the poet as Dylan was from his harmonica. Most people referred to it as 'that squeezebox,' Rosenthal says. Generations of young admirers helped the poet schlepp the keyboard around in a salesman's sample case covered with V.I.P. passes from Dylan's "Rolling Thunder" tour. ...

The harmonium also made a memorable appearance at the trial of the Chicago Seven, when Ginsberg was called as a witness for the defense. As the poet was cross-examined about the press conference where Jerry Rubin announced that a Yippie 'Festival of Life' would take place at the 1968 Democratic Convention, a surreal exchange occurred.

Mr. Weinglass (defense attorney): Mr. Ginsberg, I show you an object marked 150 for identification, and I ask you to examine that object.
The Witness: Yes. (plays C chord.)
Mr. Foran (prosecutor): Your Honor, that's enough. I object to it, Your Honor. I think it is outrageous for counsel to --
The Court: You asked him to examine it and instead he played a tune on it ...
Mr. Foran: I mean, counsel is so clearly --
The Court: I sustain the objection.
Mr. Foran: -- talking about things that have no conceivable materiality in this case, and is improper, Your Honor.
The Witness: It adds spirituality to the case, your Honor.
The Court: Will you remain quiet, sir.
The Witness: I am sorry.
The Court: My obligation is to protect you, but my obligation is to see that you act in accordance with the law.
The Witness: I agree, sir.
Mr. Weinglass: Having examined that, could you identify it for the Court and the jury? ... "

The harmonium sold at Sotheby's for $12,650 to the film-maker Obie Benz. The New Yorker reported that the item, according to music producer Hal Willner, "will be somewhere where it might be used, not taking its place in the Smithsonian next to Archie Bunker's chair."

(photo of Peter Orlovsky & Allen Ginsberg by Ella Dorfman)

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